Clause 37 - Revocation and suspension of a travel restriction order

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 1st March 2001.

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Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton 3:30 pm, 1st March 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 163, in page 28, leave out line 35.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 164, in page 28, line 43, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

`(2) The court shall revoke the order unless it considers it is necessary to prevent the offender from committing further similar offences'.

No. 165, in page 29, line 6, leave out `exceptional'.

No. 166, in page 29, line 7, leave out `on compassionate grounds'.

Jackie Ballard rose—

Hon. Members:

Oh.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

It is no reflection on me that my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has to leave the Committee at this precise moment.

The clause deals with the revocation and suspension of travel restriction orders. Both the wording of clause 35 and the Minister's response to amendments to it made it clear that the message to the courts is that travel restriction orders for drug traffickers are expected to be the norm rather than the exception. All of us want to eradicate drug trafficking and other forms of trafficking, but the issue is the duration of a travel restriction order and its impact on an offender's choices and life style on completion of a prison sentence.

Amendment No. 163 would delete the phrase

``after the end of the minimum period''.

If it were accepted, a first-time offender who received a four-year sentence—in this context, the minimum sentence—could apply for a revocation order before the two-year period was up, two years being the minimum period for which the travel restriction can be imposed.

Let us consider the first-time offender who is perhaps the na—ve mule to whom we referred earlier—I do not deny that in such a case an offence has none the less been committed—and who since release has led a blameless life for 18 months and secured a job involving overseas travel. If the amendment were accepted, in circumstances where imprisonment had proved successful in terms of rehabilitation it would be possible for that person to pursue their career by travelling overseas.

As it stands, subsection (2) makes it clear to the court that revocation is an exception to the rule. Again, that takes a pessimistic view of the rehabilitative role of a prison sentence. Such a view might reflect the reality of prison life, but it should not be reflected in the aims of the criminal justice system. Amendment No. 164, which would replace subsection (2) with a more positive wording, states:

``The court shall revoke the order unless it considers it is necessary to prevent the offender from committing further similar offences'.

Looking into my crystal ball, I can imagine that the Minister's response will be similar to his response to clause 35 in respect of a court's judging the likelihood of reoffending.

Amendment No. 165 clarifies the circumstances in which suspension can take place by removing the word ``exceptional''. I question how that word is defined. Let us imagine someone who has been served with a four-year travel restriction order, which would mean that he had been a serious offender, who is a United Kingdom citizen both of whose parents live in France—which is not so unusual these days, with free movement throughout the European Union—and who becomes seriously ill during those four years. The first time that the person goes to court to ask for a lifting of the travel restriction order, the court may say, ``Yes, this is an exceptional circumstance involving a seriously ill relative'', but on the second occasion, would that still be an exceptional circumstance? Would the Minister clarify that?

Amendment No. 166 would remove the words ``on compassionate grounds'', because if they remain in the Bill, the court will feel that it can lift the restriction order only in the event of serious illness or death, not for work-related reasons. I fully accept that it would not be inclined to lift the restriction order for a holiday, but if as part of someone's work he was asked to attend a conference in Paris, for example, ``compassionate grounds'' would imply to the court that that was not something on which to exercise its discretion—normally, one considers compassion to relate to illness or death, rather than to professional work.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 3:45 pm, 1st March 2001

The clause sets out the circumstances in which a person who is made the subject of a travel restriction order will be able to apply to the court for suspension or revocation of the order. Those are quite separate provisions and it may help if I explain the distinction.

Suspension is to cover circumstances where overseas travel is needed for urgent, exceptional, compassionate reasons, whenever that might arise after the travel ban takes effect. The explanatory notes cite the example of the need to travel overseas for urgent medical treatment. Applications for revocation are to cover other circumstances, where the offender wants to apply for the travel restriction to be lifted, such applications to be made after two years in the case of an order made for four years, four years for orders of between four and 10 years duration, and five years in all other cases. Amendments Nos. 165 and 166 deal with applications for temporary suspension, amendments Nos. 163 and 164 to applications for revocation.

I shall deal first with amendment No. 164 for brevity, because I dealt with the relevant arguments during debate on the previous clause. I shall not repeat those arguments, but simply urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment once she has had a chance to consider the points that I made.

Amendments Nos. 165 and 166 refer to applications for temporary suspension and would weaken the provision for such applications. Both would lessen the test to be applied by the courts when considering applications for suspension of travel restriction orders. That is unacceptable and would risk undermining the orders. An ''essential'' business appointment overseas—such as the example of a conference in Paris cited by the hon. Lady—might be offered as a reason to justify the suspension of the travel restriction order, and indeed there might be such a meeting or conference. However, that could all too easily provide a simple cover for illegal activities.

Indeed, if we do not make the sort of distinction that the Government have in mind, there would be little point in having separate suspension and revocation mechanisms. A drug trafficker bent on continuing his illegal trade could simply apply to have the order lifted as required, availing himself of sick relatives or urgent business trips as necessary. Under the lesser tests proposed by the amendments, such circumstances might all be reason to grant suspension of the travel restriction order.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

It sounds as though the Minister is suggesting that it will be easier for the courts to determine whether compassionate grounds exist—whether sickness is genuine—than to determine whether there is a genuine work-related reason for going abroad. I should have thought that in most circumstances it would be easier to produce documentary evidence of a work-related need to travel abroad than of the existence of a sick relative.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

That is true, but sick relatives are less common than business opportunities. I should have great difficulty inventing a sick relative in Paris because I do not have a relative in Paris, let alone a sick one. On the other hand, I should find it quite easy to invent a business event or conference that I needed to attend in Paris—even if the meeting actually took place—and to provide documentation to progress my application. The genuineness of the compassionate ground is much more restrictive, because the circumstances are far narrower. It is possible to invent fully documented activities in respect of business grounds in a wide variety of ways, which might require my presence although the real purpose of the visit was to continue conducting my drug trafficking arrangements. We worded subsection (3) so as to balance the need to respond appropriately in genuine exceptional compassionate circumstances and the desire to operate an effective sentencing regime.

Amendment No. 163 would remove the notion of the minimum period. If the amendment were accepted, a person subject to a travel restriction order would be able to apply to have that order lifted the day that it took effect, which would clearly be nonsense. In deciding whether to grant applications for revocation, the court will need to be able to consider the range of circumstances set out in subsection (4), including the conduct of the offender since the making of the order. Such a judgment can be made only after a passage of time as, by definition, taking account of that conduct—since release from prison, for example—depends on there being such a passage of time.

The amendment would give the court an incomplete picture on which to consider any application for revocation and weaken the effect of the clauses, so I hope that the hon. Member for Taunton will consider withdrawing it.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

I anticipated the Minister's argument on amendment No. 164, and I am convinced by his argument on amendment No. 163, but not on amendments Nos. 165 and 166. I do not know what sort of school he attended but, having been a teacher as well as a pupil, I know that it is common for people to invent a host of sick relatives who prevented them from doing their homework or attending school.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

In my school there was plenty of creativity in those areas, too, but people did not invent sick relatives in other countries.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

I hope that the Minister will forgive my saying so, but there was probably less travel between European countries than there is now. I am not suggesting, of course, that he was at school so very long ago.

I am not convinced that it is more difficult to invent a sick relative than a work-related reason to go abroad. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 38 and 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.